NORTH ATTLEBORO - The yearly bloom of Bradford pear trees downtown makes for a spectacle of white flora, but that display comes at a cost.
The trees lining North and South Washington streets have brought a litany of troubles for the town's public works department and some businesses.
So, with coming downtown revitalization, North Attleboro is planning for a new arboreal look. The town is expected to uproot the Bradford pear trees in favor of a more manageable variety.
Much of the problem, Public Works Director Mark Hollowell said, comes from the size that the trees reach: a 30- to 40-foot canopy that can chafe buildings and awnings.
"We want to have something much more compact and ornamental," he said. "If you don't start pruning on Day 1, they really get out of control."
Bradford pears' branches are also notably fragile. Large limbs have fallen, Hollowell said, especially if a storm hits early in the year, causing problems for plows.
North Attleboro is not alone in the headache: a quick Google search for the tree turns up, on the first page alone, articles titled "The Curse of the Bradford Pear," "Why You Shouldn't Plant a Bradford Pear Tree" and "I Just Hate Bradford Pear Trees!"
In March, the North Attleboro Downtown Revitalization Facebook page, run by Matt Slobogan of Preservation Framer on North Washington Street, posted: "The Bradford Pear Trees in downtown are pulling up the sidewalks and break limbs easily in high winds."
The post shared a New York Times opinion piece running down the case against the trees. In addition to the easily split wood and invasive tendencies, author Gabriel Popkin noted some people have likened the odor of the tree's blossoms to "semen and rotting flesh."
Cities such as Pittsburgh and Lexington, Ky., have gone as far as to ban new plantings of the trees.
And yet, the trees exploded in popularity in the United States during the 1960s. Municipalities were drawn to their striking blooms and ability to thrive in a municipal environment.
Since they came to downtown North Attleboro, some locals have formed an attachment to them - and haven't noticed problems some are pointing out. They would be sad to see the trees go.
"It's just like a permanent staple, since my kids were running around," said Andrea Thompson, a waitress at Mackie's Restaurant & Country Store. "I'd hate to see the town incur cost just to change out gorgeous trees."
Hollowell said he understands that some people are drawn to the trees.
"If there was a huge underground movement to put them back, I don't know if I'd go to war over it," Hollowell said.
Nonetheless, it would save some hassle. In 2013, the town got some relief when Reilly Tree and Landscape Co. donated a volunteer crew to prune and shape the blooming trees.
The department of public works is seeking funding for the downtown revitalization project at June's town meeting. If the money is secured, Hollowell said they would look to start the design phase over the summer, at which point the new type of tree would be a little clearer.
"Regardless of what trees there are, we'd take three days a year to prune the trees in the downtown," Hollowell said. "But now we're just keeping them off the buildings."